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The Zoe-Life of Sanctification is Riddled with Paradox

The God-inspired authors of the New Testament share the great, good news that all who come to Jesus and believe have life. And the Greek word they use for that life is zoe.

They further explain that coming to faith is but the beginning. The life of discipleship that follows is one of sanctification by the Spirit. One in which God transforms the believer into the likeness of Christ.

Sanctification is the heartbeat of zoe.

The zoe-life of sanctification is expansive—containing a wide sweep of paradoxes. A few mentionable paradoxes include striving and rest, strength and weakness, confidence and humility, prayer and work.

They may seem contrary, but they are not opposed. They somehow work in tandem, like the many other paradoxes of Christianity, often referred to as the both-ands. Like the fact that God is both immanent and transcendent. Jesus is God and Man, King and Servant. And how, in the cross, there was simultaneously mercy and judgment, foolishness and wisdom. We firmly hold to the doctrine that when we die to self, then we truly live—because Jesus is allowed to live through us (Gal 2:20). In this life of faith we can both struggle and hope, grieve and rejoice (2 Cor 6:8-10), have fear and boldness.

Though relatable, they are hard to explain, aren’t they? But, considering these few paradoxes of Christianity, we shouldn’t be too surprised that our sanctification too is peppered with them. Therefore, let’s explore a few of them a bit further.


There can be no doubt that living a life of holiness requires effort. The New Testament writers use terms like make every effort (Heb 12:14; 2 Pt 1:5), pursue righteousness (1 Tm 6:11), practice (1 Jn 3:10), and train yourself in godliness (1 Ti 4:7). We are indeed called to live a disciplined life—which comes by grace and through the Spirit’s enabling power. Yes, we must train in righteousness . . . but also rest in the knowledge that the righteousness of Jesus is ours (Rom 5:19). We don’t have to earn the Father’s love—or our salvation—but rest in it. And respond in grateful obedience.

We can find ourselves battling what it means to strive rightly. When we strive because we doubt our standing before God, our salvation, or our worthiness, that’s the wrong sort of striving. When we strive to cover or deny sin, that too is the wrong sort of striving.

When we determine to do in the flesh what only God can do, then we must rest. Rest in the gospel truth that Jesus paid the price of our ransom in full. Rest in His finished work on the cross. And rest in the assurance that He has provided enabling Power.

There is a balance—though paradoxical. I have a responsibility to work out my salvation (Php 2:12) through both pursuit and submission. As Paul, we strive to the goal of the upward call of Jesus (Php 3:14) by the sanctification that comes only from God (1 Thes 5:23).


The Spirit also works the conviction in us that we are both weak and strong. It sounds contradictory, I know. But Paul expounds this brilliantly from personal experience in one of his letters to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:1-10). While he explains this conundrum perfectly, making it very relatable, it still remains a mystery we grapple to understand at times.

Let’s face it, humans place a high value on independence—to our spiritual detriment. Often, it is pride that persuades us of this fallacy. The fact remains, however, that we have nothing apart from God. Ability and resource all comes from Him.

The paradox? Reliance upon God in weakness yields true strength.

I can be weak in faith, weak in spiritual battle, weak in the flesh, and weak in testimony. But, when I turn to the Lord, then I realize His power for courage, victory, endurance, and boldness.

When we honestly—boastfully even, as Paul—confess our limitations, we prime ourselves to receive God’s strength (2 Cor 12:7). And His power infinitely surpasses mine, even on my best day.


The Lord honestly confronts us with our human condition. He rightly humbles us. But He lovingly does so in order to show us our need . . . and His gracious provision. He also teaches that we can have both humility and confidence.

We are sin-infested, in need of a Physician. Our hearts are corrupt, in need of a transplant. And we have nothing in ourselves for salvation or life. But, by humbly accepting Jesus as Lord, we can approach God with confidence (Heb 4:16). In Christ, we can turn to God—in the humility of our neediness—and say with confidence that He is our Helper (Heb 13:6). It is turning to Him for help, knowing He hears us (1 Jo 5:14).

We are better off when we lay down our self-confidence in exchange for God-confidence. Part of our sanctification is learning to trust His immutable faithfulness more and more. And to humbly confess my fallibility in order to gain confidence in Him.


Becoming Christlike includes reflecting His obedience to the Father’s will—which He plugged into through continual prayer. To do so is to train in the practice of looking to Jesus—what He did, how He did it, and what He said. A primary observation is that He went about doing the Father’s work. But He constantly and continually prayed—before, during, and after—He did it. He modeled devotion and obedience. Prayer and work. He taught His disciples to pray . . . and sent them out with a command to serve the King and the kingdom.

Jerry Bridges used a great example on this paradox from the life of Nehemiah. When Nehemiah was rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall, he responded to the opposition by both praying and posting a guard (Neh 4:8-9). Bridges wrote, “He recognized his dependence on God, but he also accepted his responsibility to work.”

We are to pray. And work. God does His part. And we do ours. As Bridges further explains, “We are not passive. … Man’s part is to trust and work. God’s part is to enable the man or woman to do the work.” Our part is to work, but to do so in fellowship with and reliance upon God through prayer, as He enables us to do His will.

In this life in Christ, God, by His Spirit, is sanctifying us—which includes paradoxes where we can both strive and rest, pray and work, and have confidence in God’s strength even in our weakness. That is to live this zoe-life of sanctification to the full.

This concludes the Zoe series


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